A bill that changes how the state approaches juvenile justice matters was signed last week by Governor Rick Perry. The bill looks not only to save money but to save children from a life of crime, something more likely to happen if they are locked up in an institution. And perhaps surprisingly, it was a bill that received overwhelming support from both major political parties.
Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) sponsored the bill and said, “It got so much support because it makes so damn much sense.” The bill was passed with a unanimous vote in the Senate and only two votes against in the state House.
The bill will save an estimated $150 million by diverting money from the costly youth prison system and into community treatment options instead. It will close three of the ten youth prisons in the state and maximize programs within the community.
But although the bill is remarkable, it isn’t the first venture the state has taken to reduce the number of incarcerated juveniles. Last year the state gave counties incentives to keep kids in local programs. Also, the number of kids in custody has declined fairly dramatically from 5,000 in 2006 to 1,400 today.
Incarceration rarely promotes rehabilitation and nearly none of the youths locked up will be there for the rest of their lives. For that reason, it would seem beneficial to society and the kids that they receive some preparation for crime-free living. By reducing the number sent to prison in the first place, you immediately solve at least some of the problem.
Also, as this report from the Houston Chronicle points out, those in prison rarely have access to the best drug treatment and mental health services. Some of the facilities in this state are so rural, it’s difficult to find the staff to run them. Mental health counseling is often done via video conference. Now, with the new bill in place, probation departments will receive funding to provide mental health services as incentive for them to keep the juvenile offenders within the community.
Obviously most people want what’s best for both society and the juveniles accused of criminal acts. However, when you are the juvenile or you are the parent of a juvenile in trouble, it doesn’t always seem this way.
If your child is facing criminal charges and you are unsure of your options or what might happen when you go to court, contact our criminal defense attorneys today for a risk free consultation.